Colic: the facts and what you can do to relieve it

We ask Dr Nina Byrnes for her advice on colic, which can cause inconsolable crying

What is infant colic?

Colic is a very common, and often distressing, condition that affects babies. It involves repeated episodes of excessive and inconsolable crying in a newborn baby who is otherwise perfectly healthy. Symptoms classically occur in babies up to six months.

What are the symptoms of colic?

Some of the most obvious symptoms, which could help you to recognise whether your baby may have colic, include three or more hours of crying per day, a drawing up of the knees, an arched back, flushed cheeks or that they are inconsolable.


What causes colic?

We don’t know exactly what causes colic, and it is important to stress that these are generally healthy babies who thrive in every other way. It has been suggested that during the first few months of life some babies may be unable to fully break down lactose, a complex sugar in breast and formula milk. This temporary lactose intolerance may lead to digestive discomfort including wind, bloating and griping pain.

How many infants does colic affect?

Colic affects one in five babies and is a very common health concern for new parents. A recent survey in Ireland by Colief, experts in baby health, indicated that colic may in fact be more common than we think as findings revealed that 41 per cent of new mums say their baby suffered from colic and 37 per cent were unaware temporary lactose intolerance may cause similar symptoms.

What should I do if I think my baby has colic?

If you suspect your baby has colic, keep a cry diary to record the length and frequency of your baby’s crying episodes. Speak to your GP or a health care professional.

How can I soothe my baby’s discomfort?

As any parent with a baby with colic knows, it can be extremely upsetting and stressful for the whole household. Some ways in which you can soothe your baby include lifting your baby up onto your shoulder and walking around the room with them or taking your baby for a walk in their buggy.

Ways in which you might ease their digestive discomfort can include positioning your baby so that their gut is resting along your forearm or some parents try massaging their baby’s tummy in a clockwise direction. Many parents find that background or white noise, such as the TV, vacuum or even music, can often help to soothe a baby’s crying. Unfortunately, sometimes you will be unable to soothe your baby as the main symptom of colic is that babies are often inconsolable.

Could my baby be crying for another reason other than colic?

It is important to remember that there are other conditions which can cause excessive crying, such as constipation and gastro-oesophageal reflux (GORD). If your baby’s cry changes, becomes quite high pitched or quite weak or if he or she has symptoms such as a high fever, diarrhoea, blood in the stools and vomiting you should consult your GP. You know your baby best and should always check with your GP if you believe there is anything wrong.

Where can parents go for more information and advice on colic?

I would recommend going to your GP or pharmacist for professional advice on how to treat colic. There are products available such as Colief Infant Drops, a natural product which is added to breast milk or infant formula and relieves the symptoms caused by temporary lactose intolerance.

Dr Nina Byrnes is a GP and the founder of Generation Health Medical Clinics with includes GP practices in Castleknock and Glenageary, Dublin. She has three children ranging in age from pre-teen to toddler.